Charter School head cited for chaining emergency exits while children in class’
It is just after 7 a.m. and students are starting to arrive for the day at the New England Laborer’s Construction Career Academy in Cranston. The charter school was created 10 years ago and rents space in a converted jewelry manufacturing building across the street near the Howard Complex.
It’s what’s inside that attracted the attention of a state trooper and inspectors from the state Fire Marshal’s office early one morning. On the backside of the school, down a hallway from where kids had begun to gather, and just beyond an exit sign is a set of double doors.
Wrapped around it…a chain and padlock, and a sign that says “This door will be locked until 7:45 daily. Please use the front entrance.”
Sources inside the school, which has about 160 students, say the doors have been chained overnight and the first part of the day since the beginning of the academic year, in part to keep late-arriving students from sneaking in the back door.
The Hummel Report obtained undercover video of the chained doors during the early part of the school day, and showed the video to Rhode Island State Fire Marshal Jack Chartier.
It drew a swift response. Chartier sent an inspector from his office, accompanied by a state trooper, to the school — confirming what he saw on the videotape.
“I was extremely upset when I saw that,” Chartier told The Hummel Report. “Anytime that you see a posted fire exit in a school, particularly, but any fire exit, deliberately blocked. That’s an action somebody has taken, that’s in direct violation not only of the fire code, but of common sense.”
Dennis Curran, a veteran administrator from Connecticut, became the executive director of the school in August. We interviewed him the day after the visit from the fire marshal’s inspector and state police.
Hummel: Some of the kids had told the janitors, ‘You know this is illegal,’ and the response from the janitors is, ‘We know but we’re just following orders.’ Is that true, were they following orders to have that door chained?
Curran: I don’t know anything about that discussion. I think a staff member had suggested that door be secured at night and I think that we could have been a little more timely getting that door open in the morning. I think that where they dropped the ball here was, there were some times when students were coming in before homeroom, that door should have been unlocked and unsecured at that point in time.
Curran insisted the problems with the doors shutting properly — and not disciplinary issues — led to the chains being used.
Curran: Lately, we’ve had it repaired three times, but it continued to be a door that was very loose and quite frankly, you could pop open with very little strength.
Marshal Chartier says that’s not what his inspector found Monday morning.
Chartier: He stepped outside and asked them to lock the doors, which they did. He then tried the doors to get in and he could not. They locked effectively and he was out on the platform and could not get back into the building.
Inspector Paul Manning found not only the illegal chains, but defective emergency lighting inside the building as well. Curran, as head of the school, was cited for two criminal violations of the state fire code, and fined $500. It’s unclear who will pay that fine.
Chartier: When you go to the trouble of posting a sign on a door that that’s going to be your policy, it’s not a quick fix. It’s that you’ve made a conscious decision and it’s going to be a while before we fix this door, if in fact the door was broken, and we’re going to make it a policy of the building so much so that we post a sign on the door that the chains will stay on until 7:45 in the morning.
The Hummel Report has learned the chains sometimes didn’t come off until after 7:45am. Chartier, the former fire chief in Warwick, was one of the three commanding chiefs at the Station Nightclub fire nine years ago. He says the Cranston situation this week should be a warning to all administrators.
Chartier: Proper exits and egress is fundamental to fire safety. So, when I see something like this in a school it drives me crazy.
We asked Curran where common sense fit into the equation.
Hummel: I’m just wondering how it is that somebody could look at that door as a chained door when kids are in this school and think that that’s okay. I just don’t understand that.
Curran: Sure. And again my best response is that the intent was to have that door unsecured each day as we open up.
Curran assures us the doors are on the fast track to being replaced – and the chains put away permanently.
The Hummel Report is a 501 3C non-profit organization. If you have a story idea or want make a donation to the Hummel Report, go to www.hummelreport.com. Or mail Jim directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.